Another one of those bombshell trades that just seem to keep happening under Ray Shero occurred yesterday. Adam Henrique, a player who was undoubtedly a fan favorite since arriving in the NHL to stay in the fall of 2011, was heading to Anaheim. In exchange, the Devils received back a quality defenseman in the form of Sami Vatanen to help shore up their ailing blueline, currently a position of far greater need than left wing or center in New Jersey. From a hockey perspective, this trade made a whole lot of sense for everyone, with both teams dealing from a position of relative strength. The Devils lost a good forward, but they received back a legitimate top-four defenseman who can move the puck and will potentially allow them to ice multiple competent defensive pairings at the same time. The team is probably better for this trade. And yet, it’s difficult to not be sad about the end of Adam Henrique in a Devils uniform.
The notion of someone being a “True [insert team name here]” is an inherently silly and self-important label for a fanbase to apply. It implies some sort of threshold of various nebulous qualities a player must clear to be considered authentic to the team he plays/played for. Great players can be determined to lack those qualities and, thus, not be True. Crummy players can be the Truest of them all. It is an inconsistently applied and annoying construct largely created to fill air time on the radio or churn out words on a page or screen. And yet, I’ll be damned if Adam Henrique wasn’t a True Devil... whatever the hell that means.
In all honesty, Adam Henrique was a good but never great forward in his six-plus season run in New Jersey. He broke into the league as a matter of necessity when the Devils lost Travis Zajac to a bad achilles injury near the start of the 2011-12 season. From there, Henrique — with the benefit of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise riding shotgun most of the time — would go on a surprise run to being a Calder Trophy finalist with 51 points in 74 games. In the years to follow, he’d continue to put up solid if unspectacular numbers but that 51-point season remains his career best production-wise. Strictly speaking, he was never a true top-line player. Even Travis Zajac put up multiple 60-point seasons in his prime, a point Henrique may soon be past if he isn’t already. Henrique was good though, and he was a good scorer on teams that largely lacked scoring talent, making him undeniably valuable.
Henrique’s Devils legend was obviously forged in the postseason, though. His rookie regular season was great, but the postseason that followed is where he really made his mark. There are plenty of storylines embedded in the run, but the 2012 playoffs are above-all inexorably linked to Henrique and his heroics. Doc Emerick’s scream of “HENRIQUE, IT’S OVER!” will forever be a part of Devils lore. The goal, probably one of the three biggest in Devils history, might not have even been his most consequential of that playoff run, though. The game 7 double-OT winner over the Panthers in the first round saved a team just one shot away from going home in disappointment and ending the glorious run that followed before it started. Two overtime series-clinching goals in the same postseason run will get you fondly remembered anywhere, and fondly remembered is exactly what he’ll be in New Jersey, even if the on-ice body of work is only pretty good.
The love for Henrique isn’t just about what happened on the ice. Even considering the playoff goals, a different player would likely not be as popular among the fans as Henrique was. Henrique was something of a new phenomenon for New Jersey: the willing star who embraced the role and was allowed to run with it. When the Lamoriello Iron Social Media Curtain fell toward the end of Lou’s tenure with the team, Henrique was one of the first players to show up with a distinct social media presence. A player willing to have some fun and interact with fans on a regular basis was a breath of fresh air, and the fact that he was a homegrown playoff hero certainly made it all the better.
Henrique really seemed to like being a Devil, even despite some of the down times he played through. He was active in the community, friendly with the fans, and downright funny at times on social media. Poor Stephen Gionta was the victim of some of his best bits but come on, this is the stuff of legends:
Taken on it’s own, that’s damn near worth a spot in the ring of honor. And it wasn’t that he was just a goof on Twitter, Henrique seems like a genuinely nice dude and a guy you just want to root for. Things like his campaign for Movember, where he busted out his beloved (depending on who you ask) ‘stache to help raise money for cancer research, seemed like genuine gestures from a guy trying to have a positive impact and have some fun while doing it. His fundraiser — Rico’s Soiree — that happened on Tuesday, served as perhaps the perfect send-off, even if no one knew it at the time.
Also, it probably didn’t hurt that along the way Adam Henrique looked the way that Adam Henrique looks. Yes, finally, we get to the handsome elephant in the room. It’s no secret that Henrique was the official “your girlfriend’s favorite hockey player” of the New Jersey Devils. I’m not saying Henrique would be an unknown if he was a total uggo, but being nice to look at for the ladies (and men) probably didn’t hurt his popularity. To wit, see the text I got from my wife Thursday evening, as the prosecution’s Exhibit A:
So yeah, he will be missed by many folks for many reasons here in New Jersey.
Even with all these good vibes about his time here, though, there is still a certain feeling that the work wasn’t done for Henrique. It will be a fondly remembered legacy, for sure, but the fact that he was never a part of another playoff team after 2012 feels strange. And with the team perhaps emerging from their post-2012 malaise, it does stink a little bit that he wasn’t around for another go at the Cup. Circling back to where we started though, for the Devils to get closer to actually reaching that goal, the departure of Henrique was perhaps a necessary price to pay. Sports can be cold in that way.
If this is the end in a Devils uniform for Henrique or not, there is no doubt that he will always be welcome when he comes home to Newark (like, in two weeks, for instance). Some players leave town and the bitter taste can overwhelm the good times that came before it, but that clearly won’t be the case for Henrique. And while Henrique wasn’t a superstar, he was a good player and a lot of fun to have around these parts on and off the ice, and it’s going to be strange to see him playing in someone else’s jersey. Number 14 won’t be retired to the rafters for New Jersey, but the next guy who wears it will have some handsome shoes to fill.